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Mission City Council to disclose conflict of interest publicly

To be more transparent with the community, Mission City Council will publicly disclose any conflicts of interest with vendors or potential vendors at city council meetings.

A longstanding item labeled “disclosure of conflict of interest” will be near the top of each meeting agenda, which the city posts at least seven days before a meeting. If there is an agenda item in which a vendor or an elected official has a conflicting interest, it will be stated on the agenda and put on public record.

“It’s just another attempt to increase the ethical standard,” City Attorney Gus Martinez said.

When a vendor submits a proposal to work with the city, they are ethically bound to fill out a conflict of interest questionnaire or form in the proposal package. In the questionnaire, they must disclose if they have any familial or business relationships with someone on the council. Elected officials must also abstain from discussing and voting on an agenda item if they have an economic interest in the vendor.

“If I have more than 15 percent economic benefit of a business that is applying for an open contract with the city, I would abstain in addition to doing the conflict of interest form. If I am related to the vendor, then I just do a [conflict of interest questionnaire],” the city attorney said. “It’s just to announce. Not that there is something untoward happening, but just to give notice to the people that there is a conflict of interest and I’m disclosing it, which is required by law — chapter 176 of the local government code.”

Additionally, if the vendor has outstanding legal matters, they must report that as a conflicting interest — a situation relevant to the recent Hidalgo County scandal involving Performance Services Inc.

Mission contracted PSI in January 2021 to install LED lights to reduce energy costs and update water meters. The energy-saving company has since been served with a lawsuit and is under federal investigation for fraud. Chapter 176 of the local government code requires vendors to update the conflict of interest form quarterly, which PSI should have done. However, it is an honor system-type process.

“These contracts are a professional service, and it’s up to the professional to act in good faith, and we hope that that is what they do,” Martinez said. “If we find evidence that that’s not the case, we’ll see what our options are in terms of a remedy.”

Mayor Norie Gonzalez Garza already kept at least two promises she made on the campaign trail — extending public comment time to three minutes and implementing a code of ethics for city leaders. The conflict of interest disclosure is part of the code of ethics the city recently adopted to hold elected officials accountable and keep the public informed.

The code of ethics requires elected officials, board and committee members and city department heads to attend yearly training on acting in the best interest of the community. The first ethics training was July 20. The workshop covered topics that included but were not limited to nepotism, whistleblower protection, the Public Information Act and Open Meetings Act.

“We’re trying to abide by not just state laws but also keep our public informed, to let them be reassured that we’re looking after these things. And conflict exists…and most of them are benign, but there are some that, perhaps, need to be taken a closer look at. And if one of those arises, then maybe we might go into a public discussion about that potential conflict under that item if we deem it necessary to do so.”

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